Insight August 6, 2019

Higher Education Marketing for Generation Z


While experts may disagree about when the next generation of college students begins (many place the cohort between the late 1990s and the early 2010s), they will probably all agree that Generation Z is reshaping how we approach higher education marketing.

There’s no room for bland, impersonal marketing.

Young prospective students in 2019 grew up and came of age with the personalized, curated online experiences of Amazon shopping and online streaming platforms. With Gen Z, there is no “one size fits all” messaging to attract prospective students. So, higher education marketing has seen a shift toward individualistic messaging. Instead of targeting prospective students as a monolith, marketers are creating highly specific personas that reflect the individual students they want to attract.

One way that colleges/universities are doing this is by highlighting student and alumni hero stories. Pulling out individual success stories to share with prospective students allows them to imagine what it might be like to attend your school. Ranging from a few student quotes included in your existing higher education marketing materials to a complete direct mail or digital campaign centered around existing student stories, there are many opportunities to showcase the real, lived experiences of your students.

You have 8 seconds to catch their eye.

It’s also more difficult to catch — and keep — Gen Z’s attention. Research has shown that Gen Z has an attention span of just eight seconds compared to the span of 12 seconds of the millennials. That’s not to say that Gen Z students can’t maintain focus for longer periods of time. Rather, they’re able to quickly evaluate content and determine whether it’s relevant to their lives. For example:

Is this Instagram post interesting to me?


Keep scrolling.

When we’re marketing to these prospective students, we need to front load our marketing strategy, providing relevant details in a quick, easy to digest format. All the fluff should move below the fold.

Real-world experiences are paramount.

Perhaps because they grew up in a world shaped by the Great Recession that started in 2008, Gen Z is very career-focused. Nearly 25 percent of students had already begun their job search in their freshman/sophomore year. That number jumped to more than half by their junior/senior year, according to a study by Yello.

Higher education marketing materials should highlight how a college/university education provides opportunities to gain real-world experience outside the classroom. Research has shown that just over half (57 percent) of students think their education has prepared them well for their future career. You want to show how your school can prepare them to take control of their career, service and life.

One important thing to remember is that you want to show that your school is connected to the world at large. Feature classes, study abroad, research and internship opportunities that give your students the chance to network with experts in their field — who can help provide them with job opportunities in the future.

Engaging Gen Z students with your higher education marketing poses a completely new set of challenges to marketers and recruiters. But it’s not difficult to reach them, if you know where to start.

Interested in updating your higher education marketing strategy? Let’s talk.